Writer's Commentary – Mark Rahner On Dejah Of Mars #4

Writer's commentary: Dejah of Mars 4

By Mark Rahner

It's the conclusion of Dejah of Mars, but also the end of what started in Warlord of Mars Annual 1 and wound up becoming my own little universe of continuity, stretching through a dozen issues of Dejah Thoris and the Green Men of Mars and Warlord of Mars 100, too.

Amid the discussions of women's depictions in comics, this story seemed to slip under the radar. Hmm. I wonder if it had anything at all to do with Dejah Thoris looking like a pinup. Hey, as Edgar Rice Burroughs fans know, everyone's all the way naked in the novels. But let's not be superficial! The actual script I wrote is grim and serious – and more crime than yer swashbuckling Martian romance.

This Dejah Thoris is no superhero, either. She suffered from abuse survivor's PTSD in Green Men, and had to face her worst triggers, while keeping the truth from everyone for the sake of peace left her more and more isolated. Then, survivor's guilt drove her into a suicide mission with a secret Delta Force of Tharks, which ended with the destruction of a gigantic, ancient cannon in the Barsoomian desert.

We're almost up to date.

"Stay" was the Warlord 100 story that served as an enigmatic – and nearly wordless – prologue to Dejah of Mars. John Carter is shown a fragment of that cannon and blackmailed into stealing a sacred relic from Helium. Then he allows a strange, old dude who calls himself The Red Reaper to take him captive.

Dejah of Mars began with the revelation that there were lots more of those cannons buried around the planet, and Carter had stolen the relic and sacrificed himself to keep The Red Reaper from firing them at Helium.

My original title for DOM was "Get Carter," and it's filled with homages to the 1971 British Crime flick starring Michael Caine. (Mentioning the Stallone remake: instant friendship deal-breaker.) The premise: Dejah Thoris saves Carter for once. And really kicks over the card table in the process, becoming an outlaw, herself. As the ad copy trumpeted, "Ruthless! Reckless! Remorseless!" She didn't go through all that crap from the Green Men ordeal just to lose Carter now!

And here we are.

Layout 1Page 1: The Red Reaper is a Heliumite at the end of his 1,000-year lifespan and he's afraid of death. So he's become nihilistic and goes back on his deal with Carter. Up come the giant cannons. He's taking everyone with him.

This is something I always wanted to explore from the Edgar Rice Burroughs books. What happens after their phony goddess, Issus, dies and the planet's religion is destroyed because of Carter? How do you think we'd feel if an alien showed up and debunked Earth's religions? Carter and "Red" discuss this throughout the series as Carter endures assorted torturous experiments. The old man has tried and failed to discover the secret of Carter's immortality for himself. I have a philosophy degree, so if it carries a taste of the True Detective "time is a flat circle" discussions, maybe we can all thank Nietzsche.

Pages 2-5: Dejah gets her ass kicked by her old rival, Pace … until she doesn't. Pace is a female version of the "Paice" character Ian Hendry played in "Get Carter." We don't know the details of their past, but there are years of hostility and resentment built up. Pace is a little trashy. Dejah is a princess. In the previous issue, there's an exchange between Dejah and Pace based on Caine's immortal line: "You know, I'd almost forgotten what your eyes looked like. Still the same. Pissholes in the snow." Dejah says "calot droppings in the sand."

Panel 2 of page 5 is a good spot to point out Jethro Morales' art. I like the way he makes her look there: like a person in believable pain. In one of the earliest exchanges I had with him, I said I want Dejah Thoris not to look like a stripper or a Kardashian. He agreed.

Layout 1 Layout 1Pages 6-7: Pace, it turns out, is the Red Reaper's wife. Now they're going to pay him a visit. And she gets to ride in the trunk. Do Martian flyers have trunks? Why not?

See, Dejah's not even looking for her husband anymore. She chose to sacrifice that quest in favor of stopping a black market trade for the eggs of Heliumite women. Babies. Which, in the previous issue, we saw that the ultra-rich purchase and eat. And we also saw her righteous vengeance.

Nudging a car over the edge of something with a person trapped in the trunk is another nod to "Get Carter." Ugly death. Dejah doesn't have time to dwell on it.

Layout 1Page 8: The Red Reaper is raising the giant cannons with the enhanced power of his mind. He had double-crossed and manipulated Carter. It was the stolen relic – ground up and injected – that gave him the power.

"Why would I tell you that? What do you think this is, Carter?" As a lifelong James Bond fan – not to mention comics – I've grown a strong aversion to moments when the bad guy explains everything to the helpless hero.

Layout 1Page 9: Dejah busts in and addresses The Red Reaper: "Eggsucker …" A minor shout-out to Harlan Ellison and "A Boy and His Dog."

Layout 1Page 12: The Reaper explains that he doesn't eat the eggs. He's been using them for experiments to prolong his life. "Youth-mutants" had an old-timey pulp ring to it that tickled me.

Layout 1Page 13: The core exchange of the series. Red asks, "What is John Carter? Is he death?"

In the novels, Carter is immortal. He spells it out from the beginning of "A Princess of Mars." And he's an amazing, unstoppable killing machine. In "Stay," the Reaper declines to fight him. He's not stupid. He could never win. And Carter's also more than a little like Jesus, bringing peace to the planet, teaching them to be kind to their animals, and the like. The shape of the thing Carter's been tied to is no coincidence.

Dejah's answer is all we ultimately need to know: "My husband."

Note that Carter's battle with the youth-mutants takes place in the background and is never front-and-center. She gets the spotlight here.

Layout 1 Layout 1Pages 14-15: This is something you'd never see a superhero do, and it shows how ruthless and over-the-edge Dejah has become. Disgusted when Carter tells her that the Reaper drank some of his blood, she furiously orders him, at gunpoint, to go ahead and drink the rest. (It mirrors another "Get Carter" scene.) Maybe when you were a kid, you got caught smoking a cigarette and your furious mother made you choke down the whole pack.

Mixed with the effects of the relic, Carter's blood gives the Reaper a seriously bad trip. Now, in addition to his telekinetic powers, he gets visions – which reveal a cosmic, horrifying plot twist. Which you'll have to see for yourself in the comic, you cheapskate.

Skipping ahead …

Page 17: Dejah asks Red if he's controlling the cannons with his mind, echoing the spot in an earlier issue when she asked the same question of the shopkeeper Spang Thall – who was attacking her with killer dolls – before shooting him in the head and abruptly stopping them. This plays out somewhat differently.

Layout 1Page 19: If there's any question who the Alpha is in this story, it's all built up to this image: Carter is on his knees, holding his guts in with one arm. Dejah bends down, grabs him by the back of the hair and kisses him. And it's not a tender kiss. Another memorable image from Jethro. But man, I like her face in panel two of the previous page, as well.

She's a woman with no super powers. She can't compete with Carter physically. Or with the massive green Tharks. She's had to rely on nerve and cunning. But now her sheer brutality has shocked Carter, whose own body count is unknowable. Driving home the damsel-in-distress reversal, she tells him, "You were a gentleman in distress."

And that brings my time with the Princess to a close. Maybe I'll return to her someday. Not everything is answered or wrapped up neatly, by any stretch. But next, it's time to return to The Twilight Zone.

For more on Dejah of Mars, click here.

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About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.
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